Shareen Campbell and Phil Saunter, owners of Los Gatos and Bistro Les Chats in Wood Street, and the Swindon Business People of the Year, talk about life in the restaurant business Too many chiefs?
Kitchens must be organised places, with everyone having their part to play. The French chef Escoffier defined the “kitchen brigade” – a complex hierarchy of cooks – for the grand hotels of the early 20th Century, when French was the only respected cuisine in Europe.
In our small kitchens, we work more as co-operative teams. So how do all these cooks come to be called “chefs,” the French word for chief?
It starts with the Chef de Cuisine – the Kitchen Chief. This is the decision maker in the kitchen, who designs the dishes, their presentation and dictates how they should be cooked. These days, the Head Chef also manages the kitchen staff, trains them, ensures hygiene standards are met and, most importantly, manages the economics of the kitchen. It’s a demanding role, and consequently many no longer have time to do much cooking...
Next is the Sous Chef (under chief – a role in the team, not a compromising position) who cooks, supports and deputises for the Head Chef.
In a large kitchen, there are then several Chefs de Partie. Not party animals having fun with sausage rolls, but in charge of a part (partie) of the cooking – perhaps fish or meat, dairy or vegetables, salads and cold dishes, etc.
If they are lucky, the Chefs de Partie will have assistants, Demi-chefs (half chefs) or, beneath them, the Commis Chef. Oh the poor Commis! The trainee at the bottom of the cooks’ ladder, denied opinion or influence, set only to do what they are told or “commis-sioned” to do, to the precise instructions of their chef. Their consolation is that the washer of dishes and pots, the Plongeur, (literally “diver”) is of even lower status, and not a chef of anything at all!
But one job requires such fine skills and so many years of apprenticeship that it’s often respected even more than the Chef de Cuisine.
Wearing the tallest hat of all, the Chef Patissier (Head Pastry Chef) wields her power and her rolling pin (at least in our kitchen) wherever she goes!